A pair of lamps that I appraised at a Road Show in Pennsylvania make me think of Dorothy Draper and Billy Haines, two fabulous designers for the mid-1930s through the 1940s in their hey-day, known for Baroque Modernism. This is the exact opposite of the prevailing style called Minimalism today.
The client wanted to sell these lamps and asked if I remembered the pair, and they stuck in my mind for a good reason.
They exemplified Hollywood Regency.
There are people who love this look (I do!), called Hollywood Regency after the glamour days of the 1930-40s of big, colorful, dramatic, mirrored tall ceiling interior settings seen in the movies of that era.
And the stars were dressed right for these rooms, in satin boudoir gowns and smoking jackets.
This is a native Californian style, through the bloodline of Haines, who himself was a Hollywood silent film actor. Ms. Draper was an East Coast gal, but she also designed in this glamorous style. Mr. Haines did the homes of Joan Crawford and Jack Warner: Imagine how sophisticated this look was, and still is, in my opinion.
These lamps have all the elements of Hollywood Regency.
They evoke a previous (Classical) era (think Rome), because of their use of white marble and elegant abstraction.
The line of the lamps is bold and repetitive (think of the Baroque era’s plasterwork interiors).
They are hand carved of a semi-precious material (the antithesis of mass-produced design), and they are playful (light in color and design but heavy in weight). Because they are a matched pair, they speak of symmetry. All these elements brand them as Hollywood Regency from the 1940s.
To a trained eye, Hollywood Regency is a mix of three previous styles in architecture and the decorative arts: firstly, the Georgian look (English) of the 18th century; the Italianate, a style first “discovered” when the Renaissance re-discovered Classical architecture (the Palladian style). And then the style borrows from French Rococo, designed for the wealthy in light playful colors and shapes, a style that favored a whiplash line.
Designers of this style of the 1940s like Ms. Draper and Mr. Haines were hired by the rich and famous for their “integrated interiors,” which meant that they designed the wallpapers, the fabrics, the scale of the rooms and placement of the big windows and the mirrors. And they found the antiques, rugs, and designed and commissioned the light fixtures and the furniture, as well. Mr. Haines was known for making his own furniture, one-off pieces, for his Hollywood clients.
Ms. Draper herself would have loved these lamps because she loved to contrast white with black. Her signature look was the black-and-white tiled floor for the foyer, but in contrast to this starkness, she hung yards of big bold colorful chintz fabric draperies and crafted whimsical but huge birdcage chandeliers. The style filtered down to the American middle class, and my grandmother was a fan, throwing chintz on the windows and on the big comfy easy chairs.
I wish I had been at the opening party for Ms. Draper’s masterpiece of design: The Greenbrier, a hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, where Bing Crosby surprised the guests, and for which Ms. Draper had used 45,000 yards of fabric, 15,000 rolls of wallpaper, and 40,000 gallons of paint.
Like me, she loved pink paint (my living room is pink) because it created a nice glow on older faces. Her ballroom at the Greenbrier was pink. She loved pink with stripes and cabbage rose chintz, for both draperies and seating furniture, and often that seating furniture was outrageous in glass or painted white frames, set in a room with metallic accents and mirrored tables and chests. Fabulous!
These lamps would have been crafted for a room in the 1940s and would have been surrounded by colors such as pink, turquoise, seafoam, yellow, and of course black and white, a high ceiling mirrored room with long tall windows; the occasional animal print pouf added fun. Visitors to a room like this often hope they packed their silk dressing gowns and their silver martini shakers.
There are still people (like me) who love this style, although in my case, I stay away from floral prints and love pink velvet instead, and for that reason my partner calls my brand of Hollywood Regency “Early Brothel Regency.” I have told my client in Pennsylvania that she could hope for $800 for her marble 1940s lamps, but if they were here in California, the birthplace of the style, they could fetch $1,000.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s new book, “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos,” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constructions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.